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Use a wristwatch and the sun as a compass

Suitable For

Grade 7



Time Required

 <1 Hour



What’s it about?

A very old method of finding north without a compass is by using your wristwatch, the sun and a thin stick. Even though this method to find your direction is not very accurate, Boy Scouts swear by it! Astronomers, explorers and other professionals however, do not deem this method as very reliable, and would need to use more precise equipment for more accurate readings. Find out for yourself how accurate this method of finding true north is in the following science experiment:

Topics covered

Magnetic North, True North

What will I need?


Procedure (Method)

Unfortunately, this section is only available in the e-book version of the project.

How does it work?

Unfortunately, this section is only available in the e-book version of the project.

This science experiment works because as the sun moves across the sky from east to west, its shadow gradually changes during the day, and thus its shadow can be used to find the north / south line at any time of day during which the sun is present. This method can be used even when it is pretty foggy. Although you may not be able to see the sun, it may still cast a faint shadow. For most accurate results, set your watch to ‘true’ local time, in other words without adjustments for daylight savings time.

When checking your results with a magnetic compass, it will deviate slightly because compasses point to magnetic North, which is more than 1600km away from the true north pole. Magnetic north is always moving slightly, and we call this margin of error declination. Declination is an angle that measures the difference between true north and magnetic north. The angle varies depending on where you are on the planet.

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